Exchanges: The Experiences of First-Time CEOs


Sandy Lyons, CEO of The River Group and four-time CEO, introduces our CEO Report.

EXCHANGES is the annual CEO study by The River Group. Our research focuses on the role of the CEO, the pinnacle role of leadership in an organization. We recognize the unique characteristics of this role because we draw on years of experience as both CEO and consultants to CEOs. Our intention is to inform, enlighten and inspire those who aspire to lead.

This year, EXCHANGES is about the experience of becoming a CEO for the first time.

Our hypothesis was that there would be many common experiences among leaders making that first transition to the role of the CEO. Rooted in my own experiences as CEO, and my colleagues’ observations of client CEOs over the years, this study was designed to explore this crucible moment in transitioning to CEO for the first time.

This report summarizes our study, which was based on in-depth conversations with 75 CEOs. We asked the CEOs: “How prepared were you?” “What were the biggest surprises?” “What are the best and worst parts of the job?” “In what way is the job different from other leadership roles?”

The report is organized under six core themes or ‘experiences’ of the first-time CEO, as described to us. The findings confirmed our hypothesis, capturing what the CEOs wished they’d known before stepping into the role, while also compiling their advice for those who are preparing for, or aspiring to take on, the role.

As a two-time CEO in our study said: “You are an order of magnitude more prepared the second time you become the CEO.” I also found that to be true and was much more prepared each time I took on the role; there’s no substitute for direct experience.

As noted, there are six sections in this report. Each section describes one experience of first-time CEOs, and each has three parts: first, quotes from the CEO to illustrate and provide color commentary on that experience; second, a summary of that experience; and third, direct advice about how to handle the experience if you are a first-time CEO.

If you are a CEO, we’d love to hear from you about your own experiences when you first became the CEO.



Watch Sandy on CNBC’s Squawk Box here: TRG on CNBC



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